Networks Fear Obama Blowout

While the liberal media might be cheering for Obama — McCain joked that “it’s going to be a long, long night at MSNBC if I manage to pull this thing off” — their bosses are hoping it doesn’t happen so quickly as to spoil the show.

Paul Friedman, CBS News senior vice president, said he has started to think “about what we could do to augment our Senate and House coverage on election night if the presidential story is over.”

“As to the presidential race, it’s pretty simple: We will try to call a winner in each state as soon as possible after the polls close in each state,” Friedman e-mailed. “If that adds up to 270 for someone before the polls close in the West, there’s not a lot we can do. If there are not enough electoral votes for one man to win it before the Western states close, but we’re pretty sure how they’re going to fall, we will be ready with language which states the obvious without being too obvious. We can’t be in the business of pretending to be stupid.”

Given the amount of information on the Web — including pundits and prognosticators with large followings — it’s simply impossible for the networks to do what NBC does with the Olympics, creating a sense of drama by pretending that they don’t know what they know about outcomes.

While the race won’t mathematically be over until fairly late in the evening East Coast time, if McCain doesn’t win both Florida and Virginia — the results of which could be known quite early — then the rest is just waiting for the inevitable.   The best case scenario for the networks, then, is close races in both those states.  Or, better yet, McCain victories in both states, forcing us to wait for results in swing states further west.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Media, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. While I do expect to have a far earlier night of things than in 2000, it is possible that if things are close in Florida, Virginia, etc. that it could take a while before we know for sure.

  2. Jim Durbin says:

    This is the reality of the networks. They want Democrats to win, but they want them to win in nailbiters that give them good coverage.

    It was interesting to see reports appear on CNN on ACORN, Ayers, and others when Obama was up 10% in some polls. No use covering for Obama if he’s going to win – they want to maintain the pretense of objectivity, and so the turning on the president that occurred in 1993-1994 started early on the strength of a presumed Obama blowout.

    What will be interesting is how Team Obama handles a truly hostile press. Once they’ve elected him, the stories will come out. The real fun starts when Obama butts heads with the Democrats on the Hill. They learned their lesson when Clinton betrayed them over and over. Will they let Obama, the new face, use them as a foil?

    If there’s one thing to be thankful for if Obama cleans up. It will be the recognition that Democrats are just as feckless and self-preserving as the Republicans were in 2000-2006.

    Buy Stock in Popcorn, Dr. Joyner.

  3. just me says:

    What will be interesting is how Team Obama handles a truly hostile press. Once they’ve elected him, the stories will come out. The real fun starts when Obama butts heads with the Democrats on the Hill. They learned their lesson when Clinton betrayed them over and over. Will they let Obama, the new face, use them as a foil?

    It has been a while, but I recall the press being rather soft on Clinton during the election (and at the time I was a democrat and liked him and intended to vote for him, so it isn’t colored by bias). But when Clinton won and was sworn in, it was all the sudden a press feeding fenzy. I don’t think it took very long for the press to take a harsher and closer look at him and start to hold his feet to the fire.

    Although in many ways I think Clinton is going to prove the one of the two better able to handle the press-I think Obama gets testy and irritable when pressed. My guess is while some talk of a thugocracy is a bit overblown, we will probably see it to some extent.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    If you really want to know how an Obama (spit) administration would deal with an unfavorable press. Notice how they have dealt with a man who just prior to asking a question of “the one” was playing football with his kid in his front yard. Friendly press will be tolerated. Less than friendy will be supressed. Only a fool will vote for Obama.

  5. Sevo Terken says:

    Zelsdorf Ragshaft III: “If you really want to know how an Obama (spit) administration would deal with an unfavorable press”

    OK, this is it. I’ve watched the far-out right-wing commenters on this blog go from obstreperous to almost panicky, and usually it just amuses me. But I draw a line at this “(spit)”-business: that’s crossing into Little Green Footballs-territory, and I can’t be having with that. Mr. Joyner, it’s your blog, I’m just a visitor here. Not for very much longer, though, if this style becomes the norm.

  6. Pug says:

    Only a fool will vote for Obama.

    Watch them, Mr. Ragshaft, watch them. They are going to storm the polls to vote for Barack Obama.

    You can start sulking early on November 4. Or if you prefer to start even earlier, check out the map at http://www.electoral-vote.com.

    When you get there, click on the link “this date four years ago”. They got one state wrong then and Bush and Kerry split the three ties 2-1 for Bush. This time it isn’t even close.

  7. capital L says:

    “that’s crossing into Little Green Footballs-territory”

    OK, this is it. I’ve watched the far-out left-wing commenters on this blog go from obstreperous to almost panicky, and usually it just amuses me. But I draw a line at this “Little Green Footballs-territory”-business: that’s crossing the line into Daily Kos territory and I can’t be having with that. You hear me James Joyner?! I can’t be having with that! You’ve been warned.

  8. Chip says:

    “But executives are already mulling how clearly they would want their anchors and analysts to state the obvious, since networks have been criticized for depressing turnout by calling elections while polls are still open for several more hours.”

    So it’s not just about not spoiling the show. It’s also about how to avoid stating the obvious when stating the obvious will lead to accusations that they are trying to sway the outcome.